Underage vaping has become more of an issue in recent years and more students have experience with it than most parents might know. Some youth are starting early as well.
“We have been battling vaping with our middle schooler for the past year and a half, since he was 11,” one mother told This Is Reno. “Eleven year olds can apparently buy, sell and use vapes at school on a regular basis.”
Her experience isn’t isolated.
Data from the 2021 Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a survey conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, revealed that a little more than 15% of middle school students in Washoe County have ever tried vaping and only about 6% use them regularly – within the 30 days before the survey.
That’s a drop from 2019 when more than 30% of middle school students had tried the devices and nearly 19% had used them in the past 30 days.
The leap to high school also means a leap in experimenting with vapes. Nearly 42% of Washoe County high school students have tried vaping, according to YRBS data. Only half of those who have tried vapes also used them in the 30 days before the survey. Both of those percentages are down from 2019 when more than 48% of high school students had tried vapes and more than 28% had used them more recently.
For parents whose children are using vapes, the drop in vaping rates is cold comfort.
“This is a major health crisis for our families and it is devastating,” the mother said.
According to the CDC, “E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, and pregnant women, as well as adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”
The agency also notes that most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and affects brain development, along with a host of other potentially toxic substances.
In 2019 there was a sharp increase in emergency department visits associated with vaping and e-cigarettes, with 68 deaths reported. Health investigators found that some of those cases were tied to vitamin E acetate, a chemical that was in some vapes.
The mother of the 11-year-old who uses vapes said she’s tried to get help from her son’s school.
“Their response to my inquiry as to whether they were installing vape detectors was ‘they are looking into it’,” she said. “They are so far behind the curve. This has been going on for years and they are ‘looking into it.’”
Washoe County School District said it has been trying to find a way to reduce vaping on and around campuses. This has been challenging, and the district is finding new ways to combat the increased use among younger students.
“We are addressing vaping with a program called Catch my Breath,” Katherine Loudon, a counseling coordinator for WCSD said. “This program is being delivered with WCSD staff and with help from JTNN (Join Together Northern Nevada).”
There is a presentation available on YouTube that addresses intervention and prevention for students. It was made by JTNN about a year ago and has been viewed about 200 times..
District officials also said they’re exploring vaping detectors. The devices, which often look like a household smoke detector, can be installed in school bathrooms and connected to a system that sends school administrators a text or email when vaping aerosols are detected.
A search of different systems shows that the units can cost anywhere from a few hundred to $1,000 each, and a full system could cost upwards of $10,000 per school along with ongoing monitoring costs.
Alongside search results for vape detectors were more links with information for students on how to avoid being detected.
“A pilot program is being considered at Reno High that would provide vaping detectors and a vaping prevention program with support of JTNN,” Roger Bahten, a school district counseling specialist said. “WCSD also has the SAP (Substance Abuse Prevention) program that provides substance prevention classes for students and parents when students have been caught using at school.”
Nevada youth can also reach out to the teen quitline, My Life My Quit, for help quitting vaping. It’s available online at https://nv.mylifemyquit.org/ or by texting “Start My Quit” to 36072.